hard rock

REVIEW: Tesla – Bust a Nut (1994)

TESLA – Bust a Nut (1994 Geffen)

During my first few weeks at the Record Store, one of the new releases I got to deal with was the new Tesla, Bust a Nut.  My boss cracked open a copy to play in store, but he wasn’t impressed.

“It sounds the same…” he remarked.  “It’s just the same.”

Gosh, Tesla didn’t go grunge or rap in 1994?  What a crime.  No, instead Tesla stubbornly continued, as they always have, without bowing to trends.  Bust a Nut wasn’t a successful album, but it was a damn good one.  To call Bust a Nut “the same” sells it short.  It sounded like Tesla, but a tad heavier and more diverse.  Of course, this being Tesla, there must be ballads too.

“The Gate” invites you in via chugging guitars and squealing six-strings.  It merges into “Invited”, a hell of a fine introduction.  “Invited” reflects the light and shade of Tesla in one song:  the mournful acoustic verses, the heavy and catchy choruses, all grounded in a solid classic rock vibe.  Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon made one fine guitar duo, and the layers of instrumental goodness will keep you interested and digging for more.  Heavier still is “The Solution”, which is about as metal as Tesla have ever been.  Songs about environmental conservation are more relevant than ever:  “Mother nature’s on her knees, and we’re the reason for her disease.”  Very true, Jeff Keith.  “If we’re gonna make it through tomorrow, the solution is to make a change today.”  Tesla have never used such a grinding, detuned riff like this before.  What’s this about it being “just the same”?  Tesla didn’t go grunge, but they were able to go harder within their own style.

A brilliant track called “Shine Away” uses the soft/loud dynamic popularized by grunge, but that chorus is brighter than the sun.  Enjoy some patented Tesla guitar harmonies which always sound as if inspired by Thin Lizzy, though this time verging on Iron Maiden!  Time to cool things down with a ballad, and “Try So Hard” is a lovely one in the acoustic mold.  A good variety of tunes occupy the rest of side one, but the next obvious standout is “Action Talks”.  This is as angry as Tesla get, even dropping a “fuck you!” in the lyrics.  It’s difficult to imagine that the same band can do “Action Talks” and “Try So Hard”!

Bluegrass and heavy bluesy rock collide on “Mama’s Fool”, as Tesla have never been afraid to mix genres.  Sharp fans will recognize the opening and closing acoustic patterns as the same as “Government Personnel” from Psychotic Supper (1991).  A slamming beat drives the tense “Cry”, a killer track based on a simple riff.  Dig that theremin!  “Rubberband” returns to the soft/loud format, and the loud part is fucking killer.  The chorus goes on for days and sticks like glue.  Another heavy groove called “Earthmover” earns its title, but some of the best tracks on side two are the ballads.  “A Lot to Lose” is likeable, and “Wonderful World” begins with a southern acoustic flavour.  Best of all is the fun closer, the old Joe South hit “Games People Play”.  It’s Tesla-fied, and the sitar is ditched in favour of more traditional rock instrumentation.  It’s transformed into a soul-gospel-rock and roll good time.

Tesla fired Tommy Skeoch (too many drug problems) and went down to a quartet before splitting up.  Thankfully they have enjoyed a long and quality-driven reunion since 2001.  Bust a Nut is an unsung highlight of their catalogue, and an album you’d be well advised to pick up.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1990)

AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1988, 2003 Epic remaster)

The 80s were bumpy for AC/DC.  Back In Black was massive.  For Those About to Rock was almost as big.  Flick of the Switch was a solid ball of rock, but things were uneven and some songs were filler.  Fly on the Wall has its detractors for its muddy sound, and Blow Up Your Video was mostly a snooze.  For their 1990 comeback, AC/DC got Canadian mega-producer Bruce Fairbairn involved.*  He had a huge run of hit albums most notably by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith.  Could he work his magic with AC/DC?

Bruce was one of the biggest names around, but having a hitmaker like him working with AC/DC was bound to affect their sound.  Not too much of course; this was AC/DC after all.  But Bruce did offer a cleaner sound, and there is no question it worked. To the tune of five million copies!  Another change was bringing in ex-The Firm drummer Chris Slade after the departure of Simon Wright, who joined Dio.  The bald-headed beat keeper became a fan favourite very quickly.  (Slade is once again the drummer of AC/DC today after replacing Phil Rudd.)

Debut single “Thunderstruck” has deservedly become a classic in the pantheon of AC/DC classics.  It was immediately obvious that AC/DC toned down the bluesy leanings of Blow Up Your Video in favour of rock and even arguably metal.  “Thunderstruck” is heavy metal, especially with that fluttery Angus Young lick that dominates the song.

Chris Slade’s hyper-caffeinated drum stylings really impact “Fire Your Guns”, one of the fastest and most fun AC/DC tracks in recorded history.  Any AC/DC song that involves them yelling “fire!” is guaranteed to thrill.  Not to be ignored is bassist Cliff Williams who is effortlessly locked in with Slade.  And sonically this is the best sounding AC/DC stuff since Back in Black.  Singer Brian Johnson said at the time that Bruce Fairbairn encouraged him to scream more like the old days.

Another huge single was the plucky “Moneytalks”, bringing the groove down to a perfect mid-tempo.  The main thing is the hook of the chorus.  Though all songs were written solely by the Brothers Young, you can hear Bruce Fairbairn’s impact.  It’s tight and focused more than AC/DC had been last time out.  No doubt Bruce acted as a brutal editor in the studio when necessary, and must have had a role in shaping the songs to their final form.  Listen to the layers of vocals on the chorus and tell me that’s not Bruce’s doing.

Some of the best AC/DC tracks in history have been deeper album cuts.  The title track is one such song, an ominous almost-epic.  “The Razors Edge” refers to a storm front on the horizon, and the song has that kind of foreboding feel.  Unfortunately this friggin’ incredible construction of guitars and screams is followed by a novelty track.  A seasonal novelty track.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all day the day.  I can’t wait til’ Christmas time when I roll you in the hay.”  This song should have been axed and saved for a compilation or single, where it actually could have had some impact.  Not that it’s not fun; it is!  But who wants to listen to jingle bells on track five of an AC/DC album?  “Rock Your Heart Out” closed the side with the dubious distinction of being the first obvious filler song.

The third single “Are You Ready” was the opening track for side two.  Good tune, nothing particularly special, but good enough for an AC/DC album.  “Got You By the Balls” is an amusing title, but not a memorable song.  It has a menacing bite, but not enough hooks.  There’s a definite “side two slump” as none of these songs are as good as the first batch on side one.  “Shot of Love” is OK.  Things get back on track with “Let’s Make It” which might have made a great single itself.  It has an old-timey rock and roll feel, and a slow groove.  That classic rock and roll sound isn’t heard frequently on The Razors Edge.  “Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck” isn’t shabby but veers close to that filler territory.  Finally The Razors Edge comes to a campy end with the unusual “If You Dare”.  Fortunately it’s a great, hooky little closer.

As it turns out, The Razors Edge was a one-off of sorts.  It spun off a successful live album, also produced by Bruce Fairbairn, but that was the end of their partnership.  A 1993 single called “Big Gun” sported a ballsier sound provided by Rick Rubin who went on to do their next album as well.  The Razors Edge is also the only studio album with Chris Slade.  Phil Rudd returned, reuniting the classic Back In Black lineup.  No one will question that Rudd is the best fitting drummer that AC/DC have ever had, but that doesn’t negate Chris Slade’s contribution.  Slade and Rudd do not sound alike, and therefore AC/DC acquires a different flavour with him in the band.  His cymbal work is enviable and nobody can play “Thunderstruck” like Chris Slade, period.

3.5/5 stars

*Much to the upset of the Scorpions who had tapped Bruce to do their next album Crazy World.  That didn’t happen because of the AC/DC job.

REVIEW: KISS – Demos 1981-1983

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 24 New bonus review!

Demos 1981-1983  (Bootleg)

For the first time in my life, I bought a CD that sounded so shitty, I couldn’t even stand to listen to it. I knew that the bootleg CD, Kiss Demos 1981-1983 wasn’t going to sound terrific, because my neighbor George had a version of this on LP way back in the day. I didn’t know it was going to sound this horrid.

Demos 1981-1983 collects some Kiss and assorted tracks, from some very dubious sources.  It sounds like 12th generation cassettes, complete with music bleeding through.  You can actually hear “Tokyo Road” by Bon Jovi bleeding through on track 7.  Enjoy the tape drop-out and inaudible drums too.  There are some interesting bits here, and some useless ones.

You can divide this CD into three sections.  The first six tracks seem to be Vinnie Vincent demos.  They include “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which evolved into two separate songs.  The verses became “And on the 8th Day” by Kiss, from the 1983 album Lick It Up.  The choruses became “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” from Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s debut LP.  These demos reportedly feature Vinnie himself on lead vocals, and he does a fine job of it in fact.  Why did he even need a lead singer?  Another curious track is “Back on the Streets” which Ace Frehley was known to play live before his first Frehley’s Comet album.  In fact the Comet band covered it on the tribute album Return of the Comet, and Vinnie put it on the first Invasion album. Finally there is the track listed on the back as “Your Baby”.  This is actually “Baby O” also from Invasion’s debut.

Moving on from the Vincent tracks, there are a few Kiss demos supposedly from The Elder sessions.  These include titles that are probably made up:  “Heaven”, “The Unknown Force” and “Council of the Elder”.  They are accompanied by an instrumental demo of “A World Without Heroes” and the original Frehley version of “Dark Light”, called “Don’t Run”.  These are actually really cool skeletons of tracks.  The one titled “Unknown Force” is a bass-led instrumental, and it has a funky little guitar part that is insanely nifty, but it’s just one idea that needs to be fleshed out.  Then there is “Heaven” which fans today know better as “Carr Jam” (on Kiss’s Revenge) or “Breakout” (on Frehley’s Comet).  Eric Carr wrote this riff for The Elder sessions and though Kiss didn’t use it, Ace did.  “A World Without Heroes” is an instrumental on which you can barely hear guitars.  Finally there is the track called “Council of the Elder” which could be the best of the lot.  It has a Zeppelin-y beginning reminiscent of things like “Thank You”, before it blasts into a cool riff that I don’t recognize from anywhere else.  Only a small part of the song seems to have been used, in “Only You”.

The third chunk of songs focuses on Lick It Up demos, a boring bunch of inaudible crap, all but one snippet called “You”.  It’s just a few chords and a vocal melody idea that Paul and Vinnie came up with, but it’s cool to hear them harmonize.  It’s possible this track evolved into “A Million to One” as the chords are similar.

The most inexcusable inclusion on this CD is “Young & Wreckless” which claims to be a Lick It Up demo with vocals by Vinnie Vincent.  This inclusion is an error that goes all the way back to the vinyl versions of this bootleg that circulated in the 80s.  The immediately obvious issue is that it’s not Vinnie Vincent singing, it’s Brian Vollmer.  That’s because “Young & Wreckless” is a Helix song, and this track is lifted right from their 1984 album Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge!  Like the rest of the CD, it sounds like an 18th generation cassette copy.

This disc is for die-hards only.  What I’d like to see is an official release of the demo tracks from The Elder period, which are great.  Next box set, boys?

1/5 stars

To be continued…

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Lick It Up (1983)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 23:

  Lick It Up (1983 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

On September 18 1983, Kiss publicly unmasked on MTV.  They each appeared with a name tag at a desk and answered questions from the press.  Their first album with their bare faces on the cover was just released on that day:  Lick It Up.  With two non-original members now in the band, and their fortunes fading, it seemed like the best move commercially and artistically.  According to writer Robert V. Conte, the Kiss press conference was overshadowed by an MTV special on Van Halen, broadcast the same evening.

It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss Kiss’ unmasking as a mere stunt, and in many ways they would be right, but it was not a decision made lightly.  Kiss had legitimate fears about how they could carry on without the makeup and costumes.  They came to realize that they could just continue doing what they do – playing their songs live as they always have.

The new album, Lick It Up, was brilliant. It is “exhibit A” in the case of “Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?”  With eight out of ten writing credits, all of them great, it certainly appears that Vinnie gave Lick It Up a swift kick in the afterburner.

The stark white cover featured Kiss in their street clothes.  It was a minimalist cover with the only clue to their identities being Gene’s tongue.  In Japan, a full cover obi retained the band in makeup (including Vinnie) until you opened the package and saw the white cover inside.  This led to an urban legend that Japan actually had a rare makeup cover on their edition of Lick It Up.

Strangely enough, even though Lick It Up was Vinnie’s official debut as a Kiss member, He didn’t play the solo on opening salvo “Exciter”.  This was unknown to fans at the time, but “Exciter” was performed by Rick Derringer after Vinnie couldn’t nail the right vibe in the studio.  It was an ominous warning of things to come.

Otherwise, “Exciter” ushered Kiss into the 1980s with a sound that fit.  It had a chunky guitar chug, and killer melodic chorus, and left the sound of the 70s far behind.  Perhaps most importantly, it had no outside writers.  Nothing on Lick It Up required outside writers now that they had Vinnie in the band.

After the blowout opening of “Exciter”, Gene Simmons grinds it down slow with one of his heaviest tracks to date: “Not For the Innocent”.  Gene adapted his singing style to include a Demon scream, and “Not For the Innocent” features lots of it on the outro.  “Not For the Innocent” built on the heavy Kiss of Creatures of the Night and pushed it heavier.

The first single was the successful and surprisingly simple “Lick It Up”.  It’s basically a textbook guitar chug with verses and a chorus – no solo.  It was enough to go top 40 in the UK and Canada and has since become a concert staple.  In fact it’s the only Lick It Up song to remain in the set beyond the 80s, and it’s a pretty good song for what it is.

Simmons returned to the fore on the frenetic “Young and Wasted”, an example of speedy 80s Kiss keeping up with their metal compatriots.  Fortunately, Vincent provided a kicking riff.  Live, “Young and Wasted” was often given to Eric Carr to sing.  The studio version is the one to beat.  Then it was Paul Stanley’s turn in the driver’s seat with “Gimme More”, keeping things rolling in a non-descript top gear.

One of the most interesting tunes on Lick It Up is the side two opener and second single “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.”  It was begun as a Zeppelin-y riff by Eric Carr, and finished by all four members – only the second Kiss song ever credited to all four members.  It became, in Eric’s words, a “rock and roll rap song!”  That’s not quite so, though Paul’s talk-singing in the verses evokes the basics of rap.  No worries though; this is one brilliant Kiss song that really deserved more exposure.  One worth buying the album for.

The Simmons-dominated second side of Lick It Up is where most of the treasures are found, but Paul had one more kick at the can.  Paul’s “A Million to One” is an unsung classic.  A defiant Stanley tells an ex that her chances of finding a better lover are “a million to one”.  With such an awesome song backing him, Paul makes a convincing argument.  He hits a homerun with melody and angst.

A trio of Simmons tunes ends Lick It Up as one of Kiss’ heaviest album.  “Fits Like a Glove” is speedy-Kiss again, hyper-caffeinated and playing as fast as they can.  Gene’s barking out the words, chewing them up, spitting them out and taking no prisoners.  Then, he brings it back to a groove on “Dance All Over Your Face”.  It’s a song you might not know, but you should.  Kiss’ deep cuts from the 80s have some rare diamonds, and this is one of them.

The closer was an apocalyptic rocker called “And on the 8th Day” which was based on a Vinnie Vincent demo.  The verses of that demo became “And on the 8th Day”.  The choruses became a later Vinnie Vincent Invasion track called “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which we will look at later on.  The two songs share DNA but have little else in common.  The Vincent demo is the kind of speed rocker that dominated Lick It Up.  Meanwhile the Kiss song “And on the 8th Day” has the slow monster plod, a killer riff, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Although it’s never seen the light of a concert stage, it really should have.

Though Vinnie Vincent co-wrote the songs that may or may not have saved Kiss, he was a real problem.  His personality didn’t mesh, and his ego got the better of him.  He couldn’t come to an agreement with Kiss over his contract, and in fact never signed one to become an official Kiss member.  This caused him to be let go at the end of the European Lick It Up tour.

Finding a replacement for Vincent wasn’t easy, and he was re-hired for the American tour, though he still delayed signing a contract.  Issues with Vinnie grew on this tour, as he grabbed more of the spotlight from his bandmates.  Like Ace Frehley before him, Vinnie was given a five minute solo spot, but sometimes Vinnie dragged them out well into overtime.  This caused plenty of tension, especially when he once broke into an impromptu solo leaving the band on stage not sure what to do.  The issue of Vinnie’s contract became a non-issue when he was let go permanently.  The band have had very little good to say about Vinnie Vincent since then, especially when the lawsuits began.  Despite this, Lick It Up was not to be Vinnie’s final collaboration with his former band.

Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?  This argument will go on as long as there are Kiss fans to discuss it.  Vinnie certainly did provide Kiss with some grade-A songs, both here and on Creatures of the Night.  However he wasn’t the kind of guitar player they needed, who could play the old stuff authentically and also shred with the new kids.  If Vinnie hadn’t come along, another talented writer would have, and Kiss would have continued.  This doesn’t do anything to discredit Lick It Up, a damn fine “comeback” indeed.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

3.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  After my scathing review of Creatures of the Night, I wasn’t sure how to approach this Lick It Up Meat’s Slice. I guess I’ll start with March 15, 1984. My buddy Scott Hunter and I went to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Kiss on the Lick it Up tour, with supporting act Accept! This was to be my second Kiss concert, as we were also at Maple Leaf Gardens for the Creatures tour on January 14, 1983. A concert in which we didn’t know until well after that it wasn’t Ace Frehley on guitar…but none other than Vinnie Vincent. Of course Vinnie was on guitar for the Lick it Up tour as well. Great show with openers The Headpins. Before my 15th birthday, I had now seen Kiss twice. I am 47 now and haven’t seen them live since.

Kiss had taken the makeup off between these albums. Years before I remember seeing a People magazine in my grandmother’s bathroom, while taking a shit, that showed Gene Simmons with a bandana over his face just over his nose. Up until now I had not seen any Kiss member without makeup. So there they are on the Lick It Up cover and all I can think is…”Damn…wish they still had makeup at least for that really ugly dude,” (Vinnie).  The title track of the album has become a bit of a Kiss classic and is still a great song. Not a lot of this album is exceptionally great in my opinion, but there are some good gems in there. The best of which I think is “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, which I have always loved and still do. Other than those two songs? The album lies somewhere between Meh and Good for me.

Funny Vinnie story for me though. Many years ago our makeshift band at the time were playing a Christmas assembly at St. David’s High School in Waterloo here. I was standing behind the soundboard as my guitar player was on stage doing a sound check. The sound guy asked my buddy Dave to play a bit to get a starting level. As per usual, Dave went ripping into some heavy metal bullshit soloing. After a few seconds of that I could see the sound guy waving his hands in the air in front of me, and after getting Dave’s attention, says into the microphone at the board, “Okay Vinnie Vincent…Settle down there.”  Always found that kinda defined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.

Favorite Tracks: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Lick It Up”

Forgettable Tracks: I don’t know about forgettable, but the rest isn’t that memorable.


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/20

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Europe – Best Ballads (unauthorized Russian release)

EUROPE – Best Ballads (1999 unofficial Russian compilation)

Ah Russian imports!  Those funky and cheaply printed covers, the lack of liner notes or label information…how quaint.  It is clear the Tempest Administration had no collusion with anyone in Russia.  Yet the Russians did hack their database and release Best Ballads anyway, a weird collection of 12 Europe songs and three solo tracks by Joey Tempest.  This CD originated during the period right before Europe’s triumphant reunion album Start From the Dark, so Best Ballads only contains music from the first five Europe discs.

Because it’s unauthorized and the Russians can do whatever they want, why not have both versions of “Open Your Heart” on one CD?  The sweeping 1988 version from Out of this World inaugurates the album, a brilliant version often forgotten in favour of the 1984 original.  What’s the difference?  John Norum played on the 1984 version from Wings of Tomorrow, and the re-recording has his replacement Kee Marcello.  The 1988 version also has more modern keyboards added.  Since both are included, you don’t have to pick a favourite.  We can all agree it truly is one of Europe’s Best Ballads.

What else is present?  The “big one” of course, which would be “Carrie”.  It’s the only track from The Final Countdown, because it was the only hit ballad from that album.  Other crucial Europe ballads:  “Dreamer” (Wings of Tomorrow), “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow” (both from Out of this World).  All timeless and flawless ballads.  From their first album (1983’s Europe) are a couple songs I wouldn’t have considered ballads.  In my review, I stated that “Words of Wisdom” has “an acoustic verse [but] that doesn’t make it a ballad!”  The other track, “Return of the King”, is “still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone”.  Do they belong on a CD called Best Ballads?  Who gives a fuck; it’s just a Russian import!

You’ll even find a couple rarities included.  “Sweet Love Child” and “I’ll Cry For You (Acoustic version)” are both B-sides from the Prisoners in Paradise (1991) period.   The title track “Prisoners in Paradise” is also present but again, not really a ballad.  Either way…all the Europe tunes included are fantastic no matter how you classify them.  Each one has at least a foot in ballad territory so it all works out.

But what about those Joey Tempest “bonus tracks”?  Surprisingly good and un-Europe.  “Under the Influence” flies close to adult contemporary levels.  “Lord of the Manner” could have been a hit for Rod Stewart, but that’s not a bad thing!  This is more like soft rock than balladeering.  “Elsewhere” sounds more like a ballad, enhanced with strings and all the accoutrements.  All good songs and worth checking out.

Europe’s Best Ballads is not a bad little CD, but being an unofficial release, it’s difficult to reason out a rating out of 5.  I did the best I could.

/5 ЗВЕЗДЫ

REVIEW: Cinderella – Gold (2006)

CINDERELLA – Gold (2006 Universal)

When a band like Cinderella, who only have four studio albums, get a double CD “best of” compilation, it had better be good.  Fortunately Cinderella’s edition of the Gold series offers value for the money and unreleased live tracks to boot.

All the Cinderella albums are represented, including the criminally underrated Still Climbing album from 1994.  Cinderella did not “go grunge” as so many others did.  As “Bad Attitude Shuffle” indicates, they simply doubled down on their own brand of bluesy hard rock with bite.  From the same album, “Free Wheelin'” and “Talk is Cheap” both show fearless commitment to the genre.  Then the ballad “Through the Rain” also from Still Climbing provides the balance.  Cinderella have successfully employed ballads since day one, because they happen to be quite good at them.

Among their greatest ballads: “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”, “Heartbreak Station”, “Coming Home”, “Wind of Change”, and “Nobody’s Fool”.  Each one of these tracks is worthy to be on this compilation.  Some of their slower material either bordered on blues, or were just flat-out blues songs.  Some are here:  “Long Cold Winter”, “Dead Man’s Road”, and “Sick For the Cure”.  Then there is the soulful “Shelter Me” that is harder to categorize.  But of course Cinderella are best known as a hard rock band, and most of the material falls into that vast category.  Many of these tunes are truly awesome.  “Shake Me” was first to gain attention, with some noting similarities to AC/DC.  “Hot and Bothered”, originally from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, combines the blues and rock in a tasty confection.  “Second Wind” from Long Cold Winter kicks ass, and “Gypsy Road” is here too, albeit in live form.

The live tracks are all credited to a Japanese promo CD called Last Train to Heartbreak Station, which appears to be a completely different thing from their Japanese EP called Live Train to Heartbreak Station.  Rarities are always welcome on a compilation, but one has to wish that the great single “Gypsy Road” was also included in its studio version.  It’s a good enough tune that it wouldn’t be a crime to have two versions on the same CD.

Because of their feminine name and some really bad wardrobe choices, Cinderella was written off by many people without hearing any of their rocking material.  While that is a real shame, Cinderella hasn’t made a new album in 23 years so this would be a good one-stop-shop to get much of their best material.  Augment this baby with a copy of their classic Long Cold Winter CD and you will have enough Cinderella to have a good representation of their best stuff.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – The Last in Line (deluxe edition)

DIO – The Last in Line (originally 1984, 2010 Universal deluxe edition)

Ronnie James Dio used to consider the second albums he did as inferior to the first ones.  Second Rainbow wasn’t as good as the first; same with the second Sabbath, according to Ronnie.  Is that also true for The Last in Line compared to the legendary Holy Diver?

Comparing the two is much like splitting hairs.  The two albums are so close in style and quality that it really doesn’t even matter.

A better opener than “We Rock” is hard to find.  The blitz of drums and riff was custom made for bangin’ on the stage.  It’s unusual to hear a song where the drums are a major hook, but Vinny Appice has a way of doing just that.  He gives you the urge to air-drum every time he throws down a fill.

Dio had an interesting pattern for his albums in the early days, up to Dream Evil (1987).  The albums always began with something fast.  In the song two position:  always the title track!  (The title track of each album always had a few lines of lyrics printed in the album sleeve too!) And so it is with “The Last in Line”.  The soft and ballad-y opening lures one into that “safe place”…before Dio lets it loose.  One of his best and most memorable music videos went with “The Last in Line”, absolutely one of the legendary man’s most notable songs. Its reputation is well earned, as all the pieces are in the right and you never get tired of hearing it.

We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil or divine, we’re the last in line!

With the first two tracks being so legendary to Dio fandom, it’s easy to understand how the next batch often get lost in the shuffle.  “Breathless” lacks for nothing.  Vivian Campbell’s solo spot is blazing stuff, and the song is memorable enough for head banging.  Accelerating into “I Speed at Night”, hooks are sacrificed for tempo.  It’s quintessential 80s heavy metal when speed was such an important thing.  Not a bad tune, but one with only a single purpose — banging thine head.

“One Night in the City” takes the time to allow the hooks to percolate through.  Vinny and bassist Jimmy Bain lock into a mid-paced groove while Ronnie lays down one of his typically emotive melodies.  Though it simmers on a back burner, “One Night in the City” is hot just the same.  “Evil Eyes” is also a high quality tune, and if it’s familiar that might be because an earlier version was a B-side, included on the Holy Diver deluxe edition.  Naturally, the album version is more polished, but as for which is better, that’s up to the listener.  Then there is “Mystery”, arguably Dio’s most “pop” single.  Not such a bad thing, after all Ronnie James Dio also did right by “Love is All” from the Butterfly Ball.

We are lightning, we are flame, and we burn at the touch of a spark.

“Eat Your Heart Out” is the only stumble, but it’s soon paid back with “Egypt (The Chains are On)”, a Dio epic in true metal fashion.  Who doesn’t love a good plodding metal epic about Egyptian legends?  It’s a second or third tier metal motif!  Ronnie brings his own metal melodrama to the fore.

The Last in Line is already a great album, certainly up to the quality of Holy Diver with equally memorable material.  This carries over to the bonus CD included in the deluxe edition.  Four single B-sides from the era are included.  They are live versions of “Eat Your Heart Out”, with “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” (all originally from Holy Diver).  The only two B-sides missing are “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” live at Donington 1983, from “The Last in Line” 12″ single.  These tracks however can be found on the 2010 CD release, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 

Finally we have Dio’s entire set from the 1984 Pink Pop festival.  Naturally there is some overlap with the previous live tracks:  “Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  This is offset by a smattering of Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics:  “Stargazer”, “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Heaven and Hell”.  The audio is quite good and Jimmy Bain’s bass has a nice full thump to it.  The Last in Line is one deluxe you’ll want to add to your collection

4.5/5 stars

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Jon Bon Jovi – Destination Anywhere – The Film (1997)

Vintage review from the archives.

JON BON JOVI – Destination Anywhere – The Film (1997)

Directed by Mark Pellington

I bought this on VHS when it first came out. I watched it once, put it away for a decade, and finally sold it at a garage sale for 50 cents. Why? Because this is one of the most boring pieces of vanity projects ever foisted upon the loyal. You can see all the JBJ fanboy-esque reviews on Amazon:  “The Destination Anywhere film is perfect…something to have if you are a true Bon Jovi fan. Good movie plot too…enjoy!”

True Bon Jovi fans need not apply except for “the collection”.  Let’s please be objective.

This vanity project was very loosely based on the Jon Bon Jovi solo album of the same title. As such, the music from that movie acts as the soundtrack. The music is the best thing about this film. Sure, the actors are all great — Kevin Bacon, Whoopi, Demi — but there’s no script here worth filming.

Jon Bon (“Jon”) and Demi Moore (“Janie”) are struggling with alcoholism and the death of a child. A dark film, Destination Anywhere mostly just follows Jon around town while he tries to figure things out. The characters he runs into offer various pieces of advice, but there are no epiphanies. The film sadly falls flat, sitting there purposeless, and smelling like something that Jon thought would elevate his movie career. It didn’t, and I think that’s the proof in the pudding.

1/5 stars. Boring as hell.

REVIEW: Helix – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984, Rock Candy remaster)

HELIX – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984 Capitol, 2009 Rock Candy reissue)

If you’re from Canada, then chances are you already know how to properly respond when somebody requests of you to “Gimme an R!”

You give them a fuckin’ R!

To quote Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, “Helix was a wicked concert. Fuck I sold a lot of dope at that concert. They had good lyrics, like ‘Gimme an R, O, C, K,’ and then the crowd yells ROCK really loud. Now that’s a fuckin’ concert.”

Bob Halligan Jr. wrote it, but Helix made it legendary.  In turn, “Rock You” put them on the map.  It’s pure arena rock:  “Don’t just sit there, come on get up and move!”  With a riff, a catchy tune and a shout-along chorus, “Rock You” was custom built for 1984.   The Pepsi Power Hour gave it regular play, and the boys toured relentlessly.  Helix’s rep as a down n’ dirty hard rocking band was secure.  The music video scared away my neighbor, David Dolph, a kid from across the street whose very Catholic parents wouldn’t let him listen to rock music or watch Dr. Who.   Instant street cred!

“Rock You” opened Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (their fourth LP) with a punch.  “Young & Wreckless” followed with a kick in the ass.  This chugging rocker is all about a good time.  Strangely enough, this track somehow frequently ended up on Kiss bootleg CDs.  Bootleggers most likely confused it with Kiss’ own “Young and Wasted” from 1983’s Lick it Up.  Needless to say, if you find a Kiss bootleg claiming to have an unreleased song on it called “Young & Wreckless”, it’s not Kiss.  It’s Helix.  And it kicks ass.

“Animal House” is a Helix concert classic, a bar-bustin’ rocker with a sweet slide guitar licks from Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.  He and gui-partner-in-crime Paul Hackman formed a formidable and underrated duo.   They supplied Helix with a seemingly bottomless well of riffage and tasty guitar hooks.  Meanwhile lead howler Brian Vollmer was in peak voice, driving the whole thing home.  Next up is “Feel the Fire”, basically a re-write of “Heavy Metal Love” from 1983’s awesome No Rest for the Wicked LP.  Though the songs are similar, both kick equal amounts of ass, so we will allow some self-plagiarism.  The first side was finished off with a real sledge:  “When the Hammer Falls”.  It’s a real headbanger in the classic sense, fast and loud.

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” kicked off the second side, a Crazy Elephant cover that became one of Helix’s most notorious music videos.  There was a TV version and a uncensored cut with full frontal nudity.  One of the girls in the video was an underage Tracy Lords.  Whoops!  Meanwhile, a 13-year-old me couldn’t take my eyes off the TV!  (A classmate of mine called Ian Johnson was known for his tall tales, and took credit for giving Helix the idea for the video!)  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” was one of those instantly catchy songs that seemingly everyone dug, and check out Doerner’s killer solo.

The shot with Doctor Doerner kicking the lightbulbs is possibly the coolest of all time.

Helix want to tell you what turns them on in “My Kind of Rock”, but I think it’s the biting riffs.  Not a bad tune, but Helix have done better.  That’s just filler before the ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, a cover of A Foot in Cold Water.  Helix’s take is remarkably true to the original.  It’s considerably softer than anything else on the album, but that’s the function of a ballad on a rock album.  Vollmer’s performance helped make it a Helix favourite that’s still played live in concert.  Another track called “Six Strings, Nine Lives” is the only tune that should have been excised.  Good chorus, but without a song to go with it.  One of the best Helix originals was saved for the closing position:  “You Keep Me Rockin'”.  Dark and edgy, it’s a heavy and memorable tune to end Helix’s best selling LP.

Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge is a good record, but as is so often the case with the “big hit” albums, it’s not their best.  No Rest for the Wicked is the one to seek out for the “all killer, no filler” experience.  Razor’s Edge has some essential cuts, but a couple fillers too.  If you’re thinking about picking this up, the wisest purchase would be the 2009 reissue by Rock Candy.  This remastered disc contains rare photos and liner notes including an interview with Brian Vollmer.  It also has three must-have bonus tracks:  Live versions of “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You” and “Animal House” from the uber-rare promo EP Live at the Marquee.  Since Helix were (and are) known for their blitzkrieg live shows, these tracks are well worth having on CD.

3.5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Creatures of the Night (1982/1985)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 22:

  – Creatures of the Night (1982 Casablanca, 1985 Polygram reissue, 1997 Mercury remaster)

The internal problems with Kiss continued full-bore into their next album, the surprisingly powerful Creatures of the Night.  Ace Frehley was on the cover, and in the music video, but like Peter Criss before him, he didn’t play a note.  In the midst of recording with new producer Michael James Jackson (Red Rider), they were also auditioning new guitarists to replace the Ace.

As a result of the embarrassing failure of their concept album fiasco Music From the Elder, Kiss had little choice in what to do next.  If they had any hope of survival as a musical entity, they had to return to rock.  What may have come as a surprise given their recent history including two pop “Kissco” albums was that their new music was really, really heavy.  Kiss were unleashed and went full-bore heavy metal.

Aiding and abetting this:  drummer Eric Carr was unchained on Creatures of the Night.  His drum sound, inspired by the massive slam of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, was completely off the hook.  These are by far the biggest sounding drums on any Kiss album.  Also helping the band get heavier:  a new songwriting partner.  Vincent Cusano wrote and played on several tracks on Creatures.  His talent was evident to all.

In fact there is a school of thought today regarding Mr. Cusano, later redubbed “Vinnie Vincent”.  A large vocal group of fans proclaim today that “Vinnie Saved Kiss”.  And that theory does hold some water.

Other contributors to the LP included Canadian writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.  Adam Mitchell and Mikel Japp also wrote with Paul and Gene.  Guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Farris and Adam Mitchell lent chops and solos to the album.  One guy who Gene claims came to the studio, but did not play, was one Eddie Van Halen.  According to Gene Simmons, Eddie came down and poured his heart out complaining how miserable he was in Van Halen…and then asked to join Kiss.  Believe it…or not?

The incendiary title track “Creatures of the Night” is powerful and instantaneous enough to be used as a concert opener.  The metallic chug was new to Kiss, but not alien to them.  This anthemic Paul Stanley rocker had the goods.  Kiss were back, and in a big way.  Just listen to those opening drums!  It’s as if Kiss knew that Eric Carr still needed a more suitable introduction, and they gave it to him.

Creatures is notable for one major “first”.  It was the first of many Kiss studio albums to only feature two lead singers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  Gene’s debut on Creatures is the incredible “Saint and Sinner”, heavy but low-key and based on a killer verse melody.  “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please…you can go to hell,” sings an angry Demon.  And that’s Vinnie, absolutely smoking with a brilliantly melodic guitar solo.  What a player…but only when he can control his instincts to play too fast.

Paul turns up the sex on “Keep Me Comin’” (har-de-har har!), a sleazy Kiss rocker with a heavy Zeppelin groove.  While not quite filler material, “Keep Me Comin’” and another Paul track called “Danger” are definitely on the lower rungs of this album.  “Danger” is the prototype for a kind of speed metal Kiss rocker that Paul threw on all the albums from this point to 1985.

One of Paul’s best songs, and longest lasting in concert, was the ballad “I Still Love You”.  This is one heavy ballad, but Paul’s singing is completely over the top.  Again, it’s more like a heavy Zeppelin blues ballad.  A track like this proves why Paul is considered one of the greatest hard rock singers of all time.  Not too many can do it like Paul on “I Still Love You”…and that’s Eric Carr on bass, by the way.  Gene doesn’t play bass on most of Paul’s songs.  Jimmy Haslip (ex-Blackjack featuring Michael Bolton and future Kiss member Bruce Kulick) and Mike Porcaro took over bass duties on “Danger” and “Creatures” respectfully.

As for Gene, Creatures really sounds up his alley, with tunes like “Rock and Roll Hell”, “Killer”, and “War Machine” suiting his dark persona.  And what tunes these are, particularly “Rock and Roll Hell” which simmers with a midnight intensity.  The song rides the basic bassline with not much in the way of additional crunch, into chorus time.  The interesting thing is the song is actually a thorough re-working of an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song written by Jim Valance.  In fact, Valance claimed that Simmons only insisted on reworking the song in order to get writing royalties.  Either way, “Rock and Roll Hell” just burns like an ember.  Then in another interesting twist, the song was later covered by Ace Frehley (Origins Vol. 1)!  A Kiss cover of a Kiss song he never played on.

“Killer” reeks of Vinnie Vincent.  One of the key guitar riffs sounds quintessentially Vinnie, and kind of similar to his later solo track “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”.  It’s a brilliant track, right up Gene’s alley, with intense speed and hooks.  The female backing vocals in the outro are a surprise.  “War Machine” on the other hand sounds purely Gene, even though it’s a co-write with Valance and Bryan Adams.  Something about it personifies the “monster plod” sound that Gene specializes in. It’s apocalyptic Kiss metal for your nightmares.  It’s strong and relentless.

The single was, of course, the overplayed “I Love it Loud”, which in turn was transformed into a killer music video featuring Ace Frehley miming Vinnie Vincent’s guitar.  “I Love it Loud” is insanely catchy and unshakeable during its first several listens.  After that, it’s too simple to maintain interest too long.  It’s kind of baffling how this song has remained in set lists well past its sell-by date, especially when tracks like “Killer” and “Saint and Sinner” are not.

In 1985 this album was reissued with new non-makeup cover art.  On the cover they replaced Ace Frehley, who never played on the album, with Bruce Kulick…who never played on the album.  Three songs were remixed:  “Creatures of the Night”, “War Machine”, and “I Love it Loud”, but only “Creatures” was included on the 1985 album.  The remixed “I Love it Loud” was later issued on a compilation, and the remixed “War Machine” has yet to be released.  The remixes by Dave Wittman generally toned down the awesome drum sound, weakening the experience overall.

Vinnie Vincent joined the band officially after Creatures was recorded, and was given his own makeup design:  The “Ankh Warrior”.  A strange choice for a new character; perhaps Kiss were plain out of ideas or just didn’t care.  It’s the only Kiss makeup design to never be seen on an album cover.  Then, Kiss embarked on their first American tour in years, the 10th Anniversary Tour.  It featured a stage with a tank for a drum riser.  “Killer” indeed!

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  When Creatures of the Night was released in 1982, Kiss had been on the back burner for me for a couple years.  Obviously still loved the classics, but 12 year old Meat was starting to become a huge fan of Heavy Metal music.  Two different friends of mine and I were discovering new music together.  Albums like Ace of Spades, Maiden Japan and Saxon’s Denim and Leather were the gateway drug for me on my way to being addicted to Heavy Metal. So when Creatures came out I recall being so into it, primarily because this was a “Heavy Metal” Kiss record.  What’s not to like?  The video for “I Love it Loud” was awesome and renewed my love for the band at the time.

So I listened to Creatures from stem to stern the other day, 35 years after it was released, and my take on this album is now quite a different story.  I am expecting that many will disagree with my slice on this one, but circumstances dictate my review.  Metal music just doesn’t inspire me the way it used to.  The love is still there but the lust is gone.  Obviously there are staples that I will always love, and new exceptions pop up all time time, but the truth is I would rather put on stuff like Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Steve Earle, Drive by Truckers etc etc.

If I would have done these Meat Slices let’s say…20 years ago?…I probably would have panned Unmasked and praised this album.  But now it is the opposite.  The album’s title track, “I Still Love You” and “I Love it Loud” are still enjoyable to me, but pretty much every other song sounds very forced and downright boring to me.  This is what happens when a band, who was used to ruling the world, tries to regain said status by joining the new Heavy Metal revolution.  Trying to be something they are not.   The albums previous (with maybe the exception of the song “The Oath”) and the albums that followed were not Metal albums.  The following albums have some heavy songs, but are definitely not Heavy Metal records.  You have to fast forward a decade until they released Revenge, and even that album had some different styles within it.  It’s so strange to me that a Kiss record that sees Kiss trying SO HARD to be a heavy metal band, turns to Bryan Adams for inspiration?  What’s Metal about that?  Hello.  McFly?

Rating this album was tough for me. I had to consider how much I loved it when it came out, and that the Creatures of the Night tour was my first Toronto arena concert.  I can’t say I dislike the album, but I can say that of all the Kiss records I have revisited doing these slices, it’s this album that truly disappointed me because I went into the listen looking forward to hearing it again.

My final thoughts are this.  Would diehard Alice Cooper fans consider Flush the Fashion a classic Alice Cooper record?  It’s an album I owned on vinyl and I like the album, but it’s a blatant grab at the New Wave market and sounds nothing like the rest of his career.  Celtic Frost has done everything possible to erase the memory of the deplorable Cold Lake, since it is a very un-Celtic Frost like record for the band.  Creatures of the Night is not genuine to me.  Most of the album sounds like the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s album, Smell the Glove. Especially the song “Heavy Duty”, and not surprisingly it was released not long after this in 1984.  So, to end this slice I will refer to the immortal Derek Smalls and put it like this.  Creatures of the Night is a disingenuous collection of head banging bullshit that to me is forgettable.  It sounds square, clunky and has way too many forgettable songs on it.  I would rather listen to Bryan Adams’ 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife.   But Kiss…I still love you.

 Favorite Tracks:  “I Love it Loud”, “Creatures of the Night”, “I Still Love You”

 Forgettable Tracks:   The rest


LeBrain’s rebuttal:  You’re Wrong on Creatures

For this Kiss Re-Review series, I have purposely avoided reading Uncle Meat’s reviews, and vice-versa, until they are ready to post.  We wanted to avoid influencing each other.  Creatures is an exception.  Meat sent this to me a couple weeks ago, long before I even started my review.  And now that I have read it…I feel like crying a single solitary tear of sadness, just like the one Gene shed in the video for “A World Without Heroes”.

Uncle Meat has a point about the switch to heavy metal music seeming like an act of desperation.  I don’t doubt that if The Elder had been a hit instead of an abject nearly career-ending failure, Kiss would have continued in that direction.  But we are talking about Kiss here.  This is a band that have usually been followers, not leaders.  Were they the first to wear makeup and heels?  No.  Did they invent disco with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”?  No.  Going forward into the future, you will see Kiss continuing to chase other people’s sounds, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains.  Even Revenge, which Meat mentioned above, seemed like an effort to bring things in line with what was happening in rock and roll.

Having listened to Creatures again for what must be the 30,000th time, my love for it is still strong.  I’ve bought Creatures five times over the years.  Every time I play it, I’m a 13 year old again.  I sink into the guitar tones, which Vinnie just nailed on this album, and enjoy the booming echo of the drums.  “I Love it Loud” no longer pitches my pup tent, but mostly due to overexposure.

On this, the Meatmaster General and I will have to agree to disagree.  It’s something we often do when it comes to music, but the benefit is that it generates rich discussions, just like this one.  — LeBrain

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/28